When word first emerged of Rent’s 20th anniversary revival, Britons weren’t slow in flocking to the theatres for a piece of the action.
Tour organisers – for whatever reason – had decided not to stop by Glasgow on their Scottish leg of the 2017 Rent tour, resulting in what can only be described as a Glaswegian and Lothian melting pot in the foyer of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
Here, on the closing night of the Scottish segment, I witnessed carnage. Before me was an excitable huddle of musical theatre fans that were prepared to wait five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-six-hundred-minutes just to get into their seats still clutching onto some Rent merchandise.
The hit 90s cult classic first appeared off-Broadway as a product of the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994, before closing its Broadway doors in the early 2000’s after over 5,000 performances. It remains to one of the most-loved musical theatre productions of all time for its memorable songs and poignant message, played before a backdrop of real-life tragedy.
On the cusp of making it big time, Rent’s extremely talented creator, writer and composer Jonathan Larson fatally collapsed at his home in New York merely hours away from Rent’s very, very first opening night. He left behind a poignant legacy teaching fans of the musical to realise that there is “no day but today”, a message which crops up frequently throughout the production.
It features the popular songs Seasons of Love, Out Tonight and La Vie Boheme.
Following the camera of Mark Cohen, a film fanatic, audiences are informed that for the next 365 days Mark will be shooting without a script. He aims to document the lives of his bohemian friends in the 1990s, among which HIV and AIDS are rife. He shares a room in a warehouse with low-on-his-luck Rodger Davies – an HIV patient – who prides himself in never having left the apartment since his diagnosis: the previous year, his girlfriend, April, left a note saying, “we’ve got AIDS,” before killing herself.
When Rodger meets Mimi, a wild 19-year-old dancer and drug user from the floor above, he is convinced to leave his apartment after much deliberation. Mimi is strikingly optimistic about life despite having little money, a drug habit, and no real place to live. Her hopefulness takes Rodger by surprise but he feels he cannot connect to someone who has their full life ahead of them while his in the balance of AIDs. This is, of course, before he learns they are not as different as he thought.
The 20th Anniversary revival still boasts all of the key traits of the original production. We have the young, beautiful, talented, energetic cast; a stage set of scaffolding and fairy lights every shade of the rainbow; and a band neatly tucked away in the just-visible corner of the stage. Rodger still flaunts his wild blond hair, reminiscent of the late Kurt Cobain. Mimi still has abs that make even the most athletic sportsman feel a little self-conscious and we, the mere mortal, turn a greener shade of pale.
The cast consists of performers of the highest calibre, which you would naturally expect for a production this size. However, special commendation must be given to this tour as there was, genuinely, not a weak member on that stage.
Ross Hunter perfectly executed Rodger’s two big solo numbers, One Song Glory and Your Eyes, hitting every big note with power and the smoothness of silk. Philippa Stefani showed the audience a new and vulnerable side to Mimi’s character who, traditionally, remains quite strong throughout. Emphasis in this particular production is placed upon the rise and fall of her character, whereas the original production is largely centred around closing with a clear sense of the importance of friendship. Stefani definitely brings more emotion to the role, but in someways this set up was detrimental.
Jordan Laviniere – who is actually the understudy of Angel – had his moment in the spotlight on the night I attended. Angel is a homosexual transvestite also suffering from AIDS and is a fan favourite, known for his sassy humour, physical flexibility, and huge heart. This is a demanding role with an iconic stiletto-infused dance routine to the hit Today 4 U. Laviniere did this role complete justice and was easily one of the most applauded members of cast at the final bows.
Three failed attempts at holding back the tears and an £8 keyring later, I leave the Edinburgh Festival Theatre for Waverly station singing leitmotifs on a loop, showing no signs of stopping.